Watchtower will move world headquarters to Warwick

Warwick Advertiser/November 25, 2009

Warwick - If all goes according to plan, Jehovah's Witnesses will relocate their world headquarters from Brooklyn to Warwick.

At its regular meeting on Nov. 19, the Warwick Town Board announced the plans by the religious group.

The visual impact of the religious denomination's plans to refurbish the former International Nickel Company property off Long Meadow Road stand as the primary concern residents want addressed in any environmental impact statement.

The plans for the new headquarters that are before the town's Planning Board call for almost 90 percent of the 257 acre site to remain in its natural condition. The site consists of approximately 195 acres of forest, 37 acres of wetlands and Blue Lake, and almost 14 acres of roads, buildings and landscaping.

The plans include specifications to meet the Green Building Initiative's three "Green Globes" standard, a building rating system used in the U.S. and Canada.

The proposed Watchtower redevelopment site has been vacant since the mid 1990's. Two other tax-exempt entities - Kings College and later Touro College - each abandoned plans to redevelop the site.

Supervisor Michael Sweeton said attorneys for Jehovah's Witnesses invited him to tour its other New York campuses in Patterson and Shawangunk to demonstrate "what they do, what their campuses look like and how they fit into the community."

The project has received a positive declaration under the State Environmental Quality Review, meaning the town is required to "identify and mitigate the significant environmental impacts" before approving the plans. Sweeton said the proposed campus seems like a good fit for the site and he is "pleased so little land would be disturbed."

The site sits in the Tuxedo School District, which had concerns about children on the campus; however, Sweeton said according to the religious order it only permits members without children to work and live on campus. Members with children would have to leave the site and settle in the community where their children would attend school.

If the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society proposal goes through, it will have a minimal carbon footprint, says Sweeton, and "use all kinds of recycled materials with a vast amount of open space to remain."

He also said members visiting the campus will stay in bed and breakfasts and hotels, eat in restaurants and shop, bringing tourism dollars with them.

In other business:

County Legislator Ben Winstanley, Village of Florida Trustee Thomas Chevrier, Deputy DPW Commissioner William Roe and Police Chief Thomas McGovern were in attendance at the board meeting.

Winstanley said the county legislature announced several hundred thousand dollars more in cuts to its budget; however, in an interview after the meeting he said the cuts are really shifts of money in Ways and Means Committee line items, which will affect neither the budget nor taxes.

Responding to inquiries by Councilman Leonard DeBuck, Winstanley said the county's plans to renovate Hickory Hill Park's picnic area have "slowed down" and two full-sized ball fields remain possibilities.

DeBuck announced that the Village of Florida's Girl Scout Troop would like to build a dog park for the town as a Silver Award project. The Girl Scout Silver Award is the highest award for girls 11 to 14 years of age.

DeBuck will meet with troop to discuss project details and fundraising.

DeBuck also announced the completion of the new footbridge at Cascade Lake Town Park. "The more people walk the park the more it becomes self-patrolled," said DeBuck, encouraging residents to check out the new footbridge and lakeside loop.

October proceeds for the Community Preservation Fund totaled $36,940.67, down from the average of nearly $60,000 per month, bringing the total to $2,007,525.55. The town passed its Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System or MS4 audit by the Department of Environmental Conservation with "flying colors" said Sweeton; educating people and training personnel have minimized elicit discharge into Greenwood Lake from things like failing septics or pipes running out of basements, he said.

The town moved the recycling pickup schedule for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's from Thursday to the following Saturday.

The town is ready for the first winter storm. The salt barn is filled with enough salt for two or three storms and will replenish that amount as the season progresses.

Unpaid water and sewer bills by homeowners totaling nearly $90,000 including penalties will appear on tax bills from the county in January. "That number is down from last year," said Sweeton, "which is a good sign."

Town Attorney John Bollenbach is assisting Sweeton with Castle Tavern and Marina on Greenwood Lake. The town clerk received a State Liquor Authority 30-day Advance Notice of an Alteration Application from Castle Tavern that would expand capacity from 93 to 257 seats. However, Castle Tavern owners must resolve a number of planning board issues.

The board accepted the resignation of Gregor Sirotof from the Conservation Board and thanked him for his "exceptional service."

The board annexed the Lehigh and Hudson River Railroad property to the Village of Warwick, which found no adverse environmental impact; it will have more value as a village property, said Sweeton.

The town also included a parcel owned by Mike Siegel in the Agricultural Protection Overlay District. Sweeton disclosed he is an adjacent landowner and said the farmer intends to have a farm market on his property.

Jehovah's Witnesses World Headquarters

The religious order's new world headquarters proposed for Long Meadow Road in Warwick at the former International Nickel Company property would include:

  • A three-to-four-story office building and place of worship (195,000 square feet)

  • Four five-story residential buildings (400,000 square feet)

  • One three-to-four-story service building including kitchen, laundry and support functions (137,000 square feet)

  • A two-story maintenance shop (100,000 square feet)

  • Additional smaller buildings including a vehicle repair shop, heating/cooling and generator house and a recreation services building.

  • The parking lot would hold 100 cars while the below-ground parking garage has 750 parking spaces.

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